The Talmud teaches that when we save a life, it is as if we have saved the world. For each life destroyed, it is as if a whole world has been destroyed.
As we continue to reel from the devastating horror of last week’s mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., this teaching makes perfect sense. Twenty-seven lives destroyed. Twenty of the victims were young children, six and seven years old, with their whole lives ahead of them. One of them could have cured cancer, become president, been a teacher. Any of them could have gone to school with our children or been a neighbor to us.
Adults heroically gave their lives to protect the children in their care. Each of those lives that has been destroyed has left a gaping hole in at least one family. But we all have been deprived of their lives; our world has been lessened for their deaths.
This happens each time we lose someone to gun violence. It happens multiple times every day in this nation. And it happens because people intent on doing harm have easy access to guns. Every day, legally purchased guns are transformed into illegal guns — through loss, theft or illegal transfer to someone who could not legally buy a gun for himself. Those illegal guns become crime guns, and we are left again to mourn.
The Dec. 14 mass shooting seems to have ignited a different response than the tragedies that have come before. There seems to be real intent and will among the public to do something, to make things different. Our leaders are hinting that they might agree that it is time for action.
If we are serious about preventing gun violence, saving lives and, according to the Talmud, saving the world, we need to collectively take a stand against gun violence. We, the American citizenry, have the power to demand change. We must make clear to our elected officials — local, state and national — that we will not tolerate another day of inaction and we want to stop the flood of illegal guns that are used to terrorize our communities.
Our officials have the power to implement common-sense regulations that will make our communities safer. Law-abiding gun owners should support such measures. They do not impair anyone’s rights; they simply block access to guns by those who should not have them. Here are five such changes that would make Pennsylvania safer:
1. Require background checks on sales of all guns or ammunition in Pennsylvania. Currently, such checks are required for all handgun sales and for any gun sale by a federally licensed dealer. This exempts the sale of many long guns, including the weapon used to kill in Connecticut, not sold by a federally licensed dealer. It also exempts ammunition.
2. Require Pennsylvania gun owners to file police reports if their guns are lost or stolen. This would enable police to find missing guns before they become crime guns, and would save time when investigating police need to track the history of a gun.
3. Ensure that Pennsylvania sends all relevant data to the national criminal background check system. Currently, 500,000 mental health records that might bar someone from purchasing a gun are available in the Pennsylvania database but have not been shared with the federal system. This means someone who could not legally buy a gun here might be able to cross state lines and purchase one in another state.
4. Require Pennsylvania to grant reciprocal recognition only to those states with permit standards equivalent to ours. Pennsylvania currently recognizes concealed carry permits from several other states, some of which grant such permits to people who would not meet the eligibility requirements if they applied in Pennsylvania.
5. Enact a new federal ban on the sale, purchase or possession of certain assault-style weapons, addressing the special dangers posed by such weapons, including the ammunition capacity, reloading speed and range.
We respect the victims and survivors of these tragedies not with silence, but with action. Together, we are a powerful force. Together, we can save the world. That starts with saving one life. I hope you will join me in taking a stand against gun violence.
Shira Goodman is the executive director of CeaseFirePA, www.ceasefirepa . org, a coalition of Pennsylvanians against gun violence. She also is on the board of the Jewish Publishing Group.